We’re continually instructed to open our hearts to old friends who are distressed, lonely, or ill. But could you shut up about yourself once in a while? Why, as the golden years turn to gray, must you be ego-yapping all the time? We are elders of the tribe now. Our job is to support others, work behind the scenes to fix things, like the planet, society, our neighborhood. We are meant now to be inconspicuous caregivers, imparting wisdom and life skills. It’s not about us anymore, if it ever really was.
I have a lifelong friend who turns any e-mail I send him into something about himself. A comment about global warming will result in a report about his own early morning runs without oil-based fossil-fuels. He’s on top of every issue. He would never understand that his competitive frame of mind is precisely what gets us into the social jams where ego-driven idiots see themselves at the center of the cosmos. You can’t fix the planet if you yourself are a pathetic wreck, an old fuel-less fossil in effect.
Another friend comes to lunch and talks about himself for about two hours. He’s a late bloomer with admirable if delayed successes and his modicum of recent misfortune. But it’s time to get out of yourself, I want to tell him. Maybe ask me how I’m feeling—about being bored to death by you.
Another friend facebooks me with a new unflattering selfie every few days; another posts banal messages of hope and courage, illustrated with some of the sappiest pictures this side of Thomas Kincade. I won’t say, “Your cheery, borrowed, canned thoughts and images of phony uplift are what depress me.” I leave my Facebook account dormant.
Another friend who recently lost his wife relates his new sexual escapades to me even as he reminds me of the painful loss of his wife’s dedicated life. I want to say, “Get over your old goat sexual addiction. Shouldn’t you be glad when your erotic ardor cools a bit so you can look around to see who you now are?” But I don’t say it.
We have a couple whose company we enjoy who keep accepting our dinner invitations. But his wife keeps canceling at the last minute. We suspect booze, say nothing. After another husband-only evening, he proceeds to explain that meds she takes are only effective when downed with alcohol.
Here’s the curmudgeon part. I spoke up. I said, “Your wife’s alcoholic, and she’s drunk; that’s why she doesn’t show up.” They haven’t spoken to us since.
Isn’t it time, as we move into our merciful seventies, to level with each other? I’m not happy about confronting old friends about their late life narcissism, deflections from reality, or whinings. We lose old friends that way.
But it’s time to sift the chaff for the remaining grain and, moreover, to look for new friends, young and old, but mainly those who have managed the transition to elderhood without being leashed to their yelping, caged egos.
And so, I speak up, confront. It’s bad manners, I know, but I’m pruning dead wood for new growth from my remaining tree of life, curmudgeon-style.
And it is afterall about the time remaining—time I no longer have for your oh so marvelous self.